Monday, 16 December 2013

The Avengers: Dial A Deadly Number

This has got to be one of the most popular Avengers episodes of all time, & with good reason. Personally some of the Series 4 episodes are my favourites: I like Steed greatly in this series, he comes across as rather louche, having not completely lost his original dodginess before becoming the Grand Old Man of Series 6.
This episode has quite seriously been chewed over almost to death. Highlights of the commentary, I feel, include its difference in feel from some of the Avengers: the London street scenes are definitely real, & Steed carries & uses a gun, a very rare occurrence for him. Other than that there is a full house of variously eccentric & sinister characters, a coffin maker, & the show down is in a wine cellar. How more Avengers could you get?
It also strikes me that this is a very classic Avengers in terms of placing the baddies, mainly Establishment respectable figures gone wrong here, but also someone embittered by Second World War experiences. This manages to combine the classic Avengers formula of hobnobbing with the great & the good, with a uncharacteristically working class person as a key character, in Fitch (the coffin maker, while working class, is more characteristically Avengers since eccentric & blatantly not real).
I find the characters of the Boardmans interesting, since they're plainly Not Our Sort Of Person, despite him being on the board of a bank. Apart from their obvious corruption & criminality (their butler tries to run over Steed after a dinner party, & Steed performs bull fight moves with the motor bike), they're simply rather nouveau. It is very effective visually that their dinner table is actually a huge coin, but can you imagine a member of an old family, or even any board member of a bank, having such a garish table? Mrs Boardman is painted quite negatively for her sexual morals, but this gives Steed the bounder scope to hope that her past may repeat itself. He expresses his satisfaction, when she comments that his apartment is just as she imagined it, that she had imagined it at all!
I'm pleased, though to be able to have one thing to say about it that hasn't been said by everyone else: the books that appear in 3 Stable Mews make two appearances in this episode: first in the bank (second picture) then in Yuill's office (third picture), where they look better. I think those books may be becoming an obsession of mine. I wonder where they are now! Incidentally do many stockbrokers have wardrobes in their offices?
The beeper technology is interesting. I love the description of it as a personal secretary: I might start referring to my Blackberry as that! I stand to be corrected on this but I believe the first transistorised pager was invented only in 1960 so at this time it was still cutting-edge technology. That said, the size of the beepers in this episode was more than a little science fiction for this time. I do love, though, the way the dials of an old-fashioned exchange are seen turning when the beeper's number is dialled.
The pros of this episode are: plot, characterisation, effective visuals, sparkling dialogue, music (I love the theme played slowly as muzak at the dinner party). I particularly love the bar & Mrs Peel's outfits, those apart from the catsuit. I love the way Steed looks in the cupboards to find Mrs Peel, finding her in the second he looks in. I love the way, when ordering coffee, Steed asks for Keeenya! And I think what I love most of all is that Steed & Mrs Peel are pictured wine tasting in a taxi. I just have one criticism, which is that for me it is overloaded with recognisable actors. It is surprising in retrospect that so relatively few actors appear over & over again in independent television's output in the 1960s: turn to a different series & you can rely on seeing a few familiar faces among the supporting cast. Here, though, for me it constitutes something of a distraction from the excellent plot, there is too much, 'Oh, isn't that...'.
A comparison with the 1970s South African radio series is interesting: the radio series performs poorly in comparison to this sparkling offering. So all in all a top-notch episode of The Avengers, from my favourite series.
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